|...to Happy Home!
Animal Lovers in Anne Arundel and Calvert Do It with No Tax Dollars
by Christy Grimes
Tails a-wag with eagerness, the two English setters flanked their master as he leaned over a counter to fill out some forms. Then he left - minus the two dogs. Volunteer Carol Crane watched the setters' eager stance slacken into sheer bewilderment as they stood in the entrance of the Tri-County Animal Shelter. "Both dogs were put to sleep that same day," she said.
"They didn't hunt good," was the owner's reason for giving them up.
Crane had then been volunteering at Tri-County just two half-days a week. "It's all I could stand," she said. It had been her job to log all the dogs, cats, gerbils, weasels and snakes coming in that day, then to log the ones put to sleep. She soon noticed a grim trend: "I could see from the records I was putting in that most of the animals that came in were put down the same day," she said. "It's one thing to hear about it. It's another to have to see it."
A Shelter of Their Own
That's when Crane, a born organizer with roots in the area, decided it was time for Calvert County to have a shelter of its own. (In keeping with its name, the Tri-County Shelter, located on Route 231 between Benedict and Hughesville in Charles County, also serves Calvert and St. Mary's counties.)
Plenty of folks agreed. Crane discovered the Calvert County Humane Society had been trying for years to get one built.
With a group of concerned locals, Crane banded with the Humane Society to form the Calvert Animal Welfare League, a feisty crew with a big mission: Build the shelter.
"Part of what we want to do is supplement Tri-County's kennel space," Crane said. When a shelter runs short on space to house refugee pets, "those animals go down."
The League pictured much more than another animal warehouse. They wanted a place, convenient to visitors, that would focus on pet adoption and owner education. Crane studied shelters all over the state to see what worked. "I'd rather not reinvent the wheel," she explained. What worked was a central, easy-to-find site. The success of the SPCA of Anne Arundel County in finding homes for animals and carrying out such programs as their neuter-a-thon convinced Crane that "as in any business, location is everything."
Anne Arundel County's SPCA is set in a residential area within Annapolis city limits. Tri-County, on the other hand, sits on the eastern edge of Charles County in an area few go unless they are dumping a pet. The idea behind its location is to be near all three counties it serves. But many residents of these counties don't know it's there. In evidence, Crane cited its "dismal" nine percent adoption rate. "You have to put the pets where people will see them," she said. "If they can't see them they won't take them."
Calvert Animal Welfare League found their ideal spot in downtown Prince Frederick. Hundreds of animals under one roof? What about the racket, not to mention the aroma?
"The way shelters are built today, you wouldn't even know they were there," said Nicky Ratliffe, director of Carroll County Humane Society, "you'd think it was a library." Ratliffe doubles as president of the Professional Animal Workers. Crane considers Ratliffe "the guru of the state" on animal welfare issues.
Despite such eminent support, the grand plan didn't impress Calvert County government. "They wanted nothing to do with it," Crane said. "We went through three sets of county commissioners."
This gives North Beach Mayor Mark Frazer, a former commissioner a mild chuckle. "It was at least that many," he recalled. "If anything, Carol is persistent. I admire her for that." Frazer served two terms as a commissioner, a total of eight years, and heard from Carol's group "every budget year."
"The commissioners have genuinely felt the Tri-County Shelter was doing a satisfactory job," Frazer said. "And if we come across something we don't see as broken, we don't try to fix it."
With an adoption rate of only nine percent, Tri-County could use fixing - by way of a second shelter, supporters for that shelter argue. "With their limited funds, Tri-County does the best job they can," said Jean Radicker, who directs her own humane group, Patuxent Animal Welfare League. "But it's a poor location, and they have to take everything that walks in the door. There are many people who aren't looking for a pet, but if they see an animal that appeals to them, they will offer it a wonderful home. At a remote shelter they're unlikely to see that pet."
"Tri-County is overtaxed," added Calvert Animal Welfare League office manager Mary Baldwin. "The population has grown tremendously, and all these new people bring their pet problems with them."
Overtaxed as well, Frazer and the commissioners argued, is the county: "Commissioners need to set priorities for limited tax dollars. For a county growing as fast as Calvert, keeping up with schools, public safety and roads are the main concerns," he said. "That doesn't leave much money for a shelter."
Desperate to get the shelter started, Crane turned to the state. This year, Delegates George Owings III and Anthony O'Donnell and Sen. Roy Dyson sponsored a bond bill for $300,000. Despite high hopes, "the appropriations committee wasn't convinced that much money was needed," said Owings.
Do-It-Yourself Animal Welfare
Without public funding, Calvert Animal Welfare League scaled down their dream of a big, full-service shelter to a smaller one they could build on when money came their way. Paul Monger of Re/Max donated half his commission to sell the group their site in downtown Prince Frederick. Meanwhile, Calvert Business Machines gave storefront office space in Calvert Village Shopping Center, where they arrange adoptions and, among other services, give free advice on pet problems.
Don't underestimate the power of pet counseling, Crane said. "Animals are easier to train than most people think. Showing people how to solve a behavior problem often makes a difference in whether they keep that pet or give it up."
The office also sells books. "Our favorite is Kid's Best Dog Book," said Crane. "I've had nine-year-olds read it cover to cover. It's for anyone who's never had a dog. It helps them realize the responsibility of a dog and shows you how to train him, understand him and play with him too: how when you play, you let the dog win sometimes."
Spare a Dime?
"All humane groups in this area are self-supporting," said Patuxent Animal Welfare Society's Radicker. "They raise money every way they can."
In Anne Arundel County, the SPCA, too, had hoped for public money to enlarge its shelter.
As Anne Arundel County SPCA's chief fund-raiser, Lou Sullivan Carter spends most of her waking hours seeking donations, the only support the SPCA gets. "We have wonderful private donors," Carter said, "but we get nothing from the state, the county, even the city we serve. I think we're just as important as many things they finance."
Few could argue the day West Street rained pigeons. Around four years ago, some exasperated building owners tried to solve their pigeon problems by sprinkling their roofs with tainted corn. The scheme backfired horribly. "Pigeons were dropping from the sky and dying all over the streets," Carter lamented. "There were hundreds of them. We cleaned them up, no charge."
Early this year, Carter asked the city for $100,000; her request never made it to the mayor's budget committee. "I realize now that was just too high an amount," Carter said. "But no one would advise me."
Now it seems Annapolis remembered those pigeons after all.
Last week, city Alderwoman (and animal lover) Ellen Moyer persuaded the city to give SPCA $15,000 for their addition.
"I'm just thrilled," said Carter. "that's $15,000 more than I thought we could get." Breathless with gratitude and glee, she added, "I know the city has so many other expenses. I'm so grateful they could include us in their budget."
At the state level, Anne Arundel Sen. John Astle sponsored Carter's state bill for $500,000 in matching funds. Presented for this year's General Assembly, the bill never made it past the senate.
So Anne Arundel's SPCA places tin-can coin banks at retail counters. Calvert Animal Welfare League holds bake sales, sells books, beanie babies and original artwork at their office and is gearing up for a jumbo yard sale June 3. Both groups hold pledge drives: Calvert Animal Welfare League has their annual golf tournament, while the SPCA has their famous Walk for the Animals (see Dock of the Bay).
The Walk for the Animals is "our biggest fund-raiser," Carter said. "It's like a big party. Everybody brings their dogs, but once someone came with a bird on his shoulder." SPCA also hosts a fall benefit dance, Putting on the Dog.
Both groups catch the occasional windfall. The SPCA's $1.5 million addition to their 13-year-old shelter comes largely thanks to a single donation of $700,000. The addition will triple the shelter's size, allowing them to host about three times as many animals.
Also contributing to the shelter were "substantial amounts" bequeathed by "two little old ladies." One bequest was for $220,000. "We don't know who the woman was, bless her heart," Carter said. The other was for $300,000.
In Calvert, Crane and other humane workers have bequeathed their own assets to the animal groups they serve. Calvert Animal Welfare League has occasionally received donations of stock shares.
Local groceries donate torn or burst sacks of dog food, and businesses like PetSmart and PetCo shower the animal groups with free toys, food and slightly flawed merchandise. "We'll get good crates with a few bent wires - like a dog really cares," said PAWS' Radicker. "Or just missing a handle. I'll just macrame one on." Radicker passes these supplies on to volunteers who foster pets for her while she finds them homes.
Learning to Care
Humane groups differ from county shelters in that they focus on placing animals given up by their owners. Rounding up strays is left to the shelters.
"Shelters lack the people and the time to do the screening we do," said Radicker.
What does screening involve? Who doesn't make the cut?
"Anyone who doesn't sound like they're going to treat the pet like a member of the family," Radicker said. "We also check to see that people's lives aren't in flux, or that they are overburdened by their lives. Also, we won't adopt out a small puppy or kitten to someone with very young children."
Carol Crane and crew often call on PAWS, or Patuxent Animal Welfare League, when they have a cat problem. While the Calvert League is headed by dog lovers, Radicker concentrates on cat rescue.
"I think cats get dumped more than dogs," she said. "They definitely reproduce faster than dogs, so there is more of a need to get them spayed." Radicker also believes people are more apt to neglect cats. "A person will say, 'oh, there's a cat in the woods,' and don't see it as a problem, though they would if it were a dog."
The humane groups also distinguish themselves by their emphasis on education. Dedicated animal welfare workers like Crane, Radicker and Carter don't see themselves as running in circles, eternally relocating a never-ending supply of marooned dogs and cats. They see themselves creating a world of responsible pet owners who spay and neuter their animals, who choose pets they can manage and who learn to handle the pets they have.
"As the population grows, the number of animals euthanized does not," Radicker said. "So that's progress. "San Francisco," she added, "has a no-kill shelter. They've got a grip on the reproductive problem, and their director thinks the same thing can be done nationwide in the next 10 years. That's the power of education."
The Calvert Animal Welfare League shelter will hold obedience classes, puppy pre-school and even a kindness camp, where in addition to the usual day camp fun of arts, crafts and games, kids will learn pet care, practicing on the shelter's dogs, cats, guinea pigs and birds.
But even such thoughtful programs won't solve all the problems, according to Carroll County's Ratliffe, for they reach only those who want to be reached. "People who don't care won't go near it," she said. "That dog is going to be chained up on the lower 40 for the rest of his life, and that's that."
This is where kids' programs step in, explained Crane: "You work on their kids so you end that cycle."
Added Radicker, "PAWS is doing a good job of reaching kids in school now. When they become pet owners, it's gonna help."
So much to learn. "People actually don't know much about dogs," said Carroll County's Ratliffe. Emblematic of the lack of basic pet care knowledge is the dog left tethered outdoors. "Dogs are pack animals," Ratliffe said. "The family is its pack. People don't realize how cruel it is to have a dog chained in the backyard."
Cold, Cruel World
Scenarios like this drove Calvert Animal Welfare League to propose for their county more detailed rules on animal shelter and care, based on rules in force in most Maryland counties.
"We've seen cases where animals get shelters too small for them to fit into, or too large for the animal to get any warmth in: a German shepherd in a tool shed, for example," said Baldwin.
The Calvert Animal Welfare League proposal met the same fate as its request for money. Now the group has posted its recommended guidelines on the plate glass of their storefront office where people can see them. "That's all the county will let us do," said Baldwin. "It'll never be part of Calvert County law."
Carroll County, on the other hand, benefits from detailed laws on animal care and an empowered force of animal control officers.
Del. Owings, who also pushes for higher penalties for animal cruelty, has made some gains at the state level. "We've made animal abuse a misdemeanor," he said. "My bill was passed last year calling for psychological counseling for abusers, since animal abuse is a prelude to human abuse."
"A society is judged by how it treats its animals," Carter said.
In that case, responded Ratliffe, we've got a problem.
To judge by the number of teenage dogs ending up at her shelter, "there are a lot less responsible people," she said. Lizards, snakes, gerbils and goats also pass through her shelter's doors.
"Too many people want things when they want them. If you work two jobs, it's just not a good time to get a puppy," she explained.
This, Ratliffe said, is why pet shops prosper. "You're walking along in the mall and see the puppy in the window. That's why pet shops locate in malls and not stand-alone shops where you'd only go if you'd made a plan."
Ratliffe chalks up some of the problem to changing lifestyles. People harbor fond memories of a family pet. "But we don't live the same way we used to," she elaborated. "We work more. That situation worked once because there was at least one parent home. Now, often that's not the case. Everyone has jobs."
When pets wind up in the custody of a shelter or humane group, "we just try to keep them social and hope someone will come along and love them," said Carter, to whom dogs and cats are "little people in fur coats."
As she sees it, "You can buy love. Animals don't care if you're fat, thin, rich or poor. It's unconditional love and it's great."
As this article took shape, Carol Crane, after seven years of constant and often frustrating work, decided to end her days as a warrior. "Seven years is long enough for anyone," she explained. Though she'll remain active on Calvert Animal Welfare League's board, the sword passes to board member and retired veterinarian Jo Moorer as her interim replacement.
"Dr. Moorer is a godsend," said Crane. "She has the experience of designing, building and managing a vet clinic." For the future, Moorer said she hopes the League "can finally move past fundraising and focus more on pets."
Don't miss CAWL's Yard and Bake Sale at Calvert Business Machines in Prince Frederick's Calvert Village Shopping Center. The fun starts Saturday June 3 at 8am.
A Family Makes Room for One More
Ignored in a corner of Mickey Courtney and Jody Roesler's porch is a little gizmo consisting of a tight metal coil sprouting from a broad, heavy base. It looks like serious hardware except for the fluffy pom-pom on top. So much for the toy engineered to "drive cats wild" and "provide hours of fun and entertainment." And it wasn't cheap, says Mickey, who bought it hoping to bring his beloved cats more joy.
The only action this toy of the future sees is when Rodney or Sally happens to brush against it, making the coil bob frantically to and fro for a few seconds. "Go figure," sighs Mickey, a Coast Guard licensed master who publishes Maryland Cruising Guide.
"And you know what they really like?" chimes in Jody, a Chesapeake watershed planner for Maryland Department of Natural Resources, who shares with Mickey a household whose running total is three cats and one dog. "They like those plastic rings off the lid of a milk jug. Every time I open a gallon of milk there's Rodney waiting for me to toss it to him." Rodney is the couple's tom tabby, whose robust build gave rise to such nicknames as, "Rodney Widebody," and "Rod the Wad."
"Yep, he's a big boy," Mickey admits. "And he snores," Jody reveals.
Spending big for the latest in pet toy technology is typical of Mickey and Jody, the couple who just can't say no to animals - which is how they wound up with Rodney.
At that point the little house in Felicity Cove - a cozy Shady Side hamlet lined with picket fences and tiny dirt lanes - was up to one dog and one cat. Sassy is a middle-sized lab/spaniel mix with a short, seal-sleek coat in killer-whale colors: licorice with white tuxedo front. (Since last year's litter of pups she also, to her owners' dismay, sports a modest whale-style layer of blubber under that seal-smooth finish). Murphy is a shy, mostly-white calico girl.
Still, feeling there was somehow room for one more cat, the couple headed to the SPCA, where they fell in love with Sally, a little red-headed tabby. It would have been an all-girl crew of three if they hadn't noticed Rodney in the cage next door and fallen in love all over again.
"We just couldn't decide," says Mickey. "We knew if we picked one, the other might not find a home." The SPCA volunteer who had been guiding the couple in their cat search, and who apparently knew a soft touch when she met one, said: "Why don't you take them both?"
Mickey and Jody bit at the bait. "And we're glad," says Jody.
It all started when Jody and Mickey, grieving over the loss of their golden retriever, decided to start over with a new dog. They found Sassy in an animal rescue shelter. She was four days away from having eight puppies. The shelter asked Jody and Mickey if they'd foster the pups. "We thought they were just asking for a donation," says Jody.
When the couple realized what the shelter was asking them to do, they had to go home and think it over. As usual, Mickey and Jody couldn't say no. Sassy was hosted by a no-kill shelter. But it was also a no-babies shelter, and when the couple called with the good news that they would take both Sassy and her unborn puppies, the dog was in a veterinary office about to have them aborted. "The whole office cheered when we told them," says Jody. "We took them back to animal rescue after eight weeks and they all found wonderful homes."
Mickey found Murphy as a tiny kitten trying to cross Snug Harbor Road. Tooling through the neighborhood, he hit his brakes just behind a truck parked in the middle of the road with its door ajar. A neighbor had stepped out of the cab and bent over to scoop something off the street. The thing was Murphy.
"She was so tiny," remembers Jody. "Her head was the size of a walnut." Unable to say no to a kitten in distress, Mickey brought her home. "We don't know where she came from," says Jody. "She had still been nursing and hadn't learned how to eat." The couple fed her tuna. "To this day Murphy will eat nothing more than tuna from a can: white albacore in spring water," says Jody.
Jody and Mickey are also bird lovers, and their tree-shaded yard drips with species-specific feeders. To discourage the cats from hunting, their collars are each outfitted with a tiny jingle bell. "I wouldn't want any wildlife killed because of our cats," says Jody. "Some people say, 'oh, it's just natural'. But domestic cats are not part of nature."
In little over a year Jody and Mickey's household has grown from zero creatures to four. "Our lives do revolve around these animals because we enjoy them so much," says Jody. "It's the highlight of the day to greet your animals when you come home from work. We just want to give them happy lives, and that really doesn't take much."